The Fantasy Novelist's Exam

Found out about this on SF Signal:

David J. Parker and Samuel Stoddard from Rinkworks came up with this exam:

Ever since J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis created the worlds of Middle Earth and Narnia, it seems like every windbag off the street thinks he can write great, original fantasy, too. The problem is that most of this "great, original fantasy" is actually poor, derivative fantasy. Frankly, we're sick of it, so we've compiled a list of rip-off tip-offs in the form of an exam. We think anybody considering writing a fantasy novel should be required to take this exam first. Answering "yes" to any one question results in failure and means that the prospective novel should be abandoned at once.

Here's a sample of the 75 questions fantasy novelists should ask themselves:

- Does nothing happen in the first fifty pages?

- Is your main character a young farmhand with mysterious parentage?

- Is your main character the heir to the throne but doesn't know it?

- Is your story about a young character who comes of age, gains great power, and defeats the supreme badguy?

- Is your story about a quest for a magical artifact that will save the world?

- How about one that will destroy it?

- Does your story revolve around an ancient prophecy about "The One" who will save the world and everybody and all the forces of good?

- Does your novel contain a character whose sole purpose is to show up at random plot points and dispense information?

- Does your novel contain a character that is really a god in disguise?

- Is the evil supreme badguy secretly the father of your main character?

- Is the king of your world a kindly king duped by an evil magician?

- Does "a forgetful wizard" describe any of the characters in your novel?

- How about "a powerful but slow and kind-hearted warrior"?

- How about "a wise, mystical sage who refuses to give away plot details for his own personal, mysterious reasons"?

- Do the female characters in your novel spend a lot of time worrying about how they look, especially when the male main character is around?

- Do any of your female characters exist solely to be captured and rescued?

- Do any of your female characters exist solely to embody feminist ideals?

Click on the link above to read the full piece.

Oddly enough, had fantasy authors followed these rules, none of the biggest bestsellers in the genre from the last three decades or so would ever have been written! ;-)

14 commentaires:

JRQ said...

ok, I'll ask the obvious questions: (1) What DOES pass these criteria?
(2) Is it actually any good?

Anonymous said...

"Oddly enough, had fantasy authors followed these rules, none of the biggest bestsellers in the genre from the last three decades or so would ever have been written! ;-)"

That's not really that odd... Most of the fantasy-buying public has pretty poor taste. See for another example the continued readership of your blog.

(of course I'm as guilty of this as anyone since I've read most of those series, but seriously, a lot of popular fantasy is pretty bad and no one seems to care)

rastronomicals said...

Agreed, Pat. There is nothing new under the sun.

The sole test any writer should take consists of one question: have I written well?

On the one hand archetypes have been done before. On the other, they resonate with additional gravitas because of that very fact.

In jazz, new musicians reinterpret old standards all the time . . . .

If your book sucks, it sucks. And if it doesn't, it don't. In neither case will the reason be that you decided to include a forgetful wizard in your DP.

"Tests" like these are more an indicator of the high level of useless snark on the internet than anything else

Kevin S. said...

One wrong answer shouldn't be enough to fail a novel. Not in a genre like fantasy, where half the fun is seeing which tropes the author will use as-is and which they'll tweak or defy.

Ted Cross said...

I wonder if someone could write a book that passes every question on this 'exam' yet is actually interesting to a fantasy fan. Probably not.

redhead said...

other than the obvious comedy relief questions and Robert Jordan bashing on that list, it was pretty much a list of fantasy tropes.

are they really saying if you use any fantasy trope whatever, your novel is derivative and garbage?

the whole thing gave me a laugh, and that was nice.

Unknown said...

Well said, rastronomicals.

Robin said...

"Oddly enough, had fantasy authors followed these rules, none of the biggest bestsellers in the genre from the last three decades or so would ever have been written! ;-)"

When we speak of the masses, we speak of the mediocrity. And yes, I am mostly a mediocre person as well :)

Avoiding the greatest clichés would have made those bestsellers more original and perhaps more dear or thought-provoking to those who read a lot, but then again, clichés are clichés for a reason. They are appealing to lots of people because they get something right.

Tree Frog said...

It may be a better one if the bar is raised to "10" or some number higher than 1 - especially out of a 75 question list.

"If your book hits the ten yes mark, it tips over the balance and becomes a heap of fetid goat dung. Unless you wish your agent to deal for a while with the heap of fetid goat dung, destroy it or scoop it into more pleasing shapes. Heaps are passe."

Daniel Abraham said...

76. Are you good enough to get away with it?

Well, all right then.

Morrigan said...

I don't think it's Jordan bashing (well, except the #33 jab I guess), so much as making fun of any wanna-be Jordan out there. Jordan didn't invent the farmboy hero, but the idea wasn't already so thoroughly stale at the time so that we can really criticize him for using it (and I'm not a Jordan fan at all, I could list probably more than 75 things to criticize Jordan for, but using some tropes isn't one of them). That said, using them again now would definitely be unwelcomed. Just like Luke and Darth Vader was a cool plot twist in the early 80's, yet any recent fiction using this trope would be a total groaner.

As for the list itself, I'd say most of them are fairly accurate; I'd say the first 25 or so really are clichés that should probably be avoided, as well as 38-50 and many others I'm too lazy to list. But take #52, for example. If the words "plate mail" appear anywhere in your book, it automatically sucks? lolwat?

I like the ones that make fun of bad writing. #68, for example, isn't saying that having different races is automatically bad; it's saying that lazy writing and poorly thought-out world-building is bad. #38 isn't saying having a simple name like "Tim Umber" or a weird "exotic" fantasy name is bad, it's saying being inconsistent is bad. Etc.

Xenophon said...

Yeah, I passed all but one. Wrote in a feminist character for wider audience appeal. Personally, I don't care if a novel has these cliches, it's what you do with them.

In my writing I use many as a framework then put twists on them. Amazon centaurs, racism, classicism, and many other modern social issues in a medieval fantasy setting.

I also have some realism, with serfdom, slavery, and other things that are not usually explored in idyllic fantasy settings.

Stephen J. said...

Maybe use a finer gradation of results. Something like:

"Give yourself 1 point for every 'Yes' answer; add up your total at the end.

0-5: You sure this is a fantasy novel?
6-10: Congrats, you've avoided all but a few cliches! Now get ready to sit alone at signing tables wondering who this Sanderson or Butcher chap everybody's buying is.
11-25: Okay, people have seen some of this before, but you're still doing better than most. (Warning: If your writing sucks, this can still flop.)
25-50: You'd better be grateful most fantasy fans don't actually look for originality. Throw in some more gore and T'n'A, you're gonna need it.
51+: Dennis? Dennis McKiernan, is that you? I know it's not David or Robert."

Airborn Press / Gordon Long said...

Dear Patrick,

I wrote a fantasy novel, and it passed the full exam with flying colours. Ok, so it's original and creative. It's also a good story, often funny in its own quirky way.

The main character is this magic sword, you see, with a sarcastic sense of humour.

So how do I get a revies on your site?

It's published as an ebook at Smashwords. The name is "A Sword Called…Kitten?"


Gordon Long